1005 miles, 560 laps, 30 races, 9 circuits, 6 months, 2 team-mates, 1 point - James Thompson, 2004 BTCC Champion
James Thompson joined an exclusive club when he claimed his second BTCC title at Donington Park last weekend. Only Alain Menu, John Cleland, Andy Rouse, and now Thompson, have won the championship twice in the last twenty years.
Thompson took the title by just a single point over his VX Racing team-mate, Yvan Muller. It was a point that he secured by setting the fastest lap in round 30 at Donington Park. Without that point, it would have been Muller that joined the double club, as he took his fifth win of the year – one more than Thompson.
“We did what we had to do”, said Thompson after taking the title at Donington Park, “and that’s all that matters!”
“It’s amazing. I can’t put it into words. I was emotional when I finished the race. It’s absolutely fantastic, and for one point to be in it, I think is very, very fitting. I can’t tell you the roller coaster of emotions that the last six months has been.”
It was a roller coaster that saw Thompson win the first race of the season, but then drop behind Muller in the points standings, except for brief moments after rounds 9 and 11 when he put his nose back in front. And then with a win in the first race at Snetterton in August, Thompson moved back ahead.
It remained close between the pair throughout the season, with each outscoring the other at five meetings, whilst Thompson was the higher scoring driver in 16 of the season’s 30 races. Muller failed to score in just one race – round 9 at Silverstone, whilst Thompson had two DNFs, at Thruxton and at Knockhill.
The regulation tweaks this season – reverse grids and three races at each meeting – have helped ensure close racing throughout the year, and have produced ten different race winners.
“You have a good race, then in the second race, some points get pulled back, and then in the third race, you’ve got it all to do”, said Thompson. That is exactly how the Donington meeting went for the 30 year-old, as he finished second in the first race, only for Muller to pull back seven points in race two.
“Really, I knew that to win the championship, I had to set the fastest lap, if Yvan won the race, and be third, and that’s no mean task in itself. Otherwise I had to finish second.”
|"we did what we had to do...and that's what's important!" - JT|
“I think Yvan had his mirrors full, and I think he was just trying to get on and make no mistakes and leave it to me a little bit. If I’d not got the fastest lap in the race, I had to finish second, it was that close. But luckily the pace that we had was fantastic, and I just sat there once I had the fastest lap I was constantly on the radio asking ‘have I still got fastest lap?’, because if someone else had stolen it towards the end of the race, I would have been second in the championship.”
But Thompson held on to that all important fastest lap, and leaves the BTCC as champion, eleven seasons after his debut, back in 1994. Despite his intention to pursue new challenges, he has nothing for respect for the series that has been his home for the last decade.
“It’s a fantastic series. I’ve been in the series for ten years. It’s been amazing for me. I’m a double champion now. To leave the series on a high is the way you want to do it. You never want to leave being second at anything. Absolutely fantastic. If you’re going to leave, that’s the way to do it. It’s the best form of motorsport in this country, with fantastic TV coverage. The series is on the up. Alan Gow everybody have done a great job. The series IS great racing. Better racing you will not find anywhere in the world.”
So just what will Thompson be doing in 2005?
“We’ll just see what happens…I’m sure there’ll be some announcements sooner rather than later.”
Photography: Peter Still (www.stillphotography.co.uk)